Mastering Intensive Care 022 with Felicity Hawker

This week’s Mastering Intensive Care podcast features Dr Felicity Hawker who is one of the true female pioneers of Intensive Care in Australia and New Zealand.

I had the privilege of working with Felicity for over a decade from when I began as a brand new intensive care consultant over 20 years ago and I came to admire her greatly. Mainly because I witnessed first-hand someone who was a master clinician – astute, careful, diligent, systematic, thoughtful, compassionate and knowledgeable. Felicity always handed over the patients in a considered and packaged patient-focused manner. She was a pleasure to work with and I learnt so much from such a high-quality role model.

Felicity grew up and went to medical school in the Australian state of Tasmania, before completing specialist training in Melbourne, Glasgow and Sydney. She became the Co-director of the ICU at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1985 before moving to Melbourne to be the Director of the Cabrini Hospital ICU from 1995 until 2008, during which time she also worked as a part-time intensive care specialist at the Alfred Hospital. She continues to work at Cabrini as the Chair of the Deteriorating Patient Committee.

None of this spells out well enough that in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Felicity was doing her specialist training, intensive care was an almost totally male-dominated specialty (certainly in Australia and New Zealand). Many more women have joined her and us over the years but surely the path she forged can’t have been easy. Nevertheless, Felicity has published extensively, written a book on the liver in critical illness, spoken at many scientific meetings and been highly respected in our community.

Felicity’s other major contribution has been her committee work at every level of education and training in the various Australian and New Zealand intensive care training institutions since the early 1990s. With other colleagues, she was instrumental in bringing together the anaesthetic and the physician training programs through several iterations to ultimately become what is now a stand-alone College of Intensive Care Medicine (CICM), and where she is now the Director of Professional Affairs. Felicity was the inaugural Dean of the then Joint Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine (JFICM) from 2000-2002 and was awarded the JFICM medal in 2009. Since 2005 she has been honoured with the annual presentation of the prestigious Felicity Hawker Medal to the best research presentation by a trainee at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the CICM.

I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to talk with Felicity, as in my eyes she has been a brilliant clinician at the bedside, a female pioneer in our specialty and a person who has strived to ensure proficient, knowledgeable and professional intensive care specialists are developed over the course of specialty training in Australia and New Zealand. In the episode, we talk about many things, including:

  • The early course of her career and what attracted her to intensive care
  • The enjoyable relationships she has made with intensive care trainees
  • The importance of diagnosis and the need to remain curious and sceptical
  • Her time spent training in Glasgow as a Shock Team registrar
  • The influence of a dynamic female consultant during her own training
  • How attitudes and outcomes have changed since when she was one of 2 consultants at what is now one of the biggest ICUs in Sydney
  • The characteristics she thinks good intensivists require
  • Communicating with colleagues and patient’s families
  • Her highly valuable published survey of the issues female intensivists face
  • How research has changed since her early career
  • Her views on winding down an active intensive care career
  • Her earlier successful horse riding career
  • Her current role as a doctor at professional horse racing meetings
  • How she has dealt with the stress of an intensive care career
  • Her observation that many intensivists want to be educationalists
  • Her enjoyment of family, cryptic crosswords, reading and travel
  • And some valuable advice to 35 year old intensive care doctors

Show notes

My genuine hope with the Mastering Intensive Care podcast is to inspire and empower you to bring your best self to the ICU by listening to the perspectives of such thought-provoking guests as Wes Ely. I passionately believe we can all get better, both as carers and as people, so we can do our absolute best for those patients whose lives are truly in our hands.

Feel free to leave a comment on the Facebook “mastering intensive care” page, on the LITFL episode page, on Twitter using #masteringintensivecare, or by sending me an email at andrewATmasteringintensivecare.com.

Further reading and listening

Dr Andrew Davies LITFL Mastering Intensive Care

Dr Andrew Davies MBBS FRACP FCIC. Intensivist/researcher at Frankston Hospital, Melbourne. Aiming to bring my best self to work & life. | Mastering Intensive Care | New Normal project |

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